Metaverse – Good, Bad, Or Threatening?

Humanoid avatars of a person (just like our Instagram photos today) are populating Earth and doing all instead of humans. When we say “All”, we mean “All”. Humans, in the meantime, are just laying back in the safety of their homes and enjoying the experiences relayed to them by their avatars.

Sound creepy? Yes, but it is just a movie (albeit a visionary one).

You may remember the Bruce Willis “Surrogates” movie from 2009. Back then it was considered a slightly spooky sci-fi thriller (as normal sci-fi thrillers ought to be). Today, a mere 12 years into the future, humanity is really on its way to this virtual reality. Only this time it is not avatar humanoid robots who will join reality, but humans who will join the virtual world.
Yes, we are talking about the Metaverse.

Now to the question. Is the Metaverse good, bad, or threatening?
One thing is certain – the topic is #Thoughtprovoking .
Prior to answering let’s see the basics.

What Is The Metaverse?

There are three complementing definitions of the term:

1. This is a mix of Multiple Elements of Technology and the uniVERSE created by their integration. These elements include (but are not limited to) augmented reality, virtual reality, AI, a lot of IoT devices and sensors, video, and some other tech, as well as users (maybe one day – all of humanity). The Metaverse could become the virtual place where people would like to spend time;

2. Meta is a Greek word, which means “beyond”. In our context this would mean a universe that is beyond the material universe in which we live;

3. Merriam Webster suggests the idea of “transcending reality”, just as in metaphysics. The idea is more than appropriate. This is a place where users go to work, play or socialize. If you think about it, this is what most humans do all day, though not yet virtually.

These three definitions give an all-encompassing idea of what Metaverse means.

Facebook Turns Meta

On the 28th of October 2021, Mark Zuckerberg announced in a video the rebranding of Facebook to Meta. As the first of the definitions above suggest, the Metaverse is a place where people come together to socialize. Well, currently more than 4 billion people are socializing exactly on Facebook … sorry, on Meta. Actually, it is exactly this rebranding, or maybe Mark’s video, that brought the term to global attention.
Zuckerberg’s video is another video definition of the Metaverse, showing how people can meet, communicate, bond, and basically enjoy life in an augmented or totally virtual reality. What Mark explains really well is how the material world and the virtual one start to mix. Augmented reality is a step in this direction, but then people will be able to “bring” anything from the material world into the virtual one, or the Metaverse.

When Can We Expect The Metaverse?

Contrary to what one may expect, having heard Mike Zuckerberg, the Metaverse is already here. Humans have already started to “move” and share many of the material things which they cherish in the virtual world. We have started to do this on all social media by sharing pictures, music, stories, thoughts, and games.

We are also moving our personalities to the Metaverse by creating avatars, which we consider appropriate … although still rather far from exquisite.

Sure, it still has a lot of room for development and growth, but the first Metaverse places have already started to appear, and are visited by many users. These are not only social media. True Metaverse spaces already exist.

The Bank of America actually put together a list of the “Top 10 Metaverse Stocks” for investor-privy readers. Outside of the giants Meta and Microsoft real Metaverse spaces today are VRChat, games like Second Life , and many of the online games which we play (true – the characters are not yet 3D for many of them).

The Competitions For Ownership Is On

As Zuckerberg rightly points out, the Metaverse is hard to be created by a single person or a single company. Yet it will surely be lucrative to own large chunks of the real-estate, … sorry virtual-estate. Or else said – Metaverse platforms which are most popular with the Metaverse users. Hence the interest of all tech giants in joining the show. Actually, each of the tech giants are bringing in various blocks of the Metaverse:

•    Microsoft – the owner of Xbox and the popular game Minecraft (already a place, where you can invite friends and family to play together) is planning a “Metaverse mixed-reality construct”.

•    The biggest global retailer Amazon is “building” their Metaverse Mall by working on virtual try-on, pop-up stores, and avatar shoppers.

•    Nvidia – the chip-maker giant, is creating their “Omniverse”. Their chips will provide the jumping block for the AI, augmented and virtual reality processing power.

•    Autodesk – the real-life designer platform is providing the tools for virtual design, which will never have a material form.

•    Apple is investing strongly in a new line of products which will transform our movements into virtual ones. Apple Glass and Apple Rings are just but a couple of the gadgets which this giant is working on to help us immerse ourselves into the virtual.
•    The corporate world is not alone in creating the building blocks of the Metaverse. The South Korean government created in the spring of 2021 the Metaverse Alliance. The mission is to coordinate AR and VR development.

The Alliance has since seen the support of Samsung, Hyundai, SK Telecom, to mention but a few. Seems that not only will we be able to enjoy K-pop in the Metaverse by the end of the year, but that South Korea is becoming a key player in the game.

The list can go on and on with more giants, as well as some more Metaverse-focused smaller companies and start-ups. What is happening is that the tech enterprises (and innovative governments) of the world are bringing together their capabilities in creating the Metaverse. All of them will be jockeying for positions, competing for users, and all the while creating the new realm.

An Unexpected Boost

The COVID pandemic lockdowns were a turn down for many businesses. However, they provided an unexpected tailwind for the Metaverse by sending many employees to work from home. Global Workplace Analytics suggests 25-30% of the employees are working remotely in 2021.

Initially, the ICT sector focused on the immediate provision of tools to facilitate this huge change in the place of work. Platforms like Google Drive, Zoom, Teams, and Slack are just a few of the leaders. They helped people continue working, learning, and commuting during the lockdowns.

Innovation, however, does not stop here. A good example is Microsoft who is building on their Teams platform and developing Mesh for Microsoft Teams which is expected to roll out in 2022. Mesh brings the mixed reality to team meetings, bringing them to the Metaverse. Surely Microsoft will not be alone. Zuckerberg made this clear in his video.

What Of It?

Like all new things, and especially all new technologies, there are the ones who embrace the new capabilities of the Metaverse.

There are also conspiracy theories that build on The Matrix concept and warn of global control of all who dare enter. “He who controls the Metaverse will control reality”.

Academics, like Dr. David Reid - Professor of AI and Spatial Computing at Liverpool Hope University are speaking out of the “terrifying dangers” which this new mesh-of-technologies brings. The latter is suggesting policing this new world as it rolls out.

Doctors warn that virtual and augmented reality may prove so inviting that people will start to have a difficult time differentiating between reality and its augmented form. This state of the mind has a clinical name – schizophrenia.

Physicians have warned us repeatedly about spending numerous hours in front of computer screens and the lack of movement. But these warnings came while the Internet was in its infancy. Then they were warning us of developing addictions with social media. Now just consider the time spent, and the addiction potential of the perfect world created by the Metaverse.

New technologies were not welcomed immediately since Victorian times (just check Queen Victoria’s views on the new weaving machines). Sadly, remembering what humans did with the atom initially, proves nay-sayers of new tech to be worth listening to.

It is true that regulators have been catching up with technology. Their reactions were rather reactive than proactive. The truth is that the Metaverse is here and it will be the next gold mine. Bad people will be joining it, just like benevolent ones. Regulators, most likely, will be the last to onboard.

One Good Thing

One good thing about the Metaverse is that whatever the new name of Facebook, or whatever the financial power of the tech giants, this new tech will not be owned by anyone. Rather all of us, be it as developers, or as users, will be creating this new place. It is up to us to make it a place-to-be, a place to enjoy, and a place to work, while excluding the “bad people” (be sure that such will come).

As always – it is up to humanity what it will do with the Metaverse. The knife may be used to kill people, and then again it may be used to slice bread.